Once upon a time, in the far away year of 2008, a young me tried to watch AZUMANGA DAIOH on YouTube. Compilations and AMVs for the anime were everywhere and I knew it had to be hilarious. I managed to find clips, and specific episodes split into parts. Still, full episodes eluded me. I wound up skipping around, watching whatever bits I could find. After all, my local FYE didn’t have it on DVD. I tried reading the manga instead, but I couldn’t always find the volumes at my store and it took me a few years to complete.

Thankfully, the accessibility of anime has improved since then. In large part because of the internet, and building off its predecessors, anime is bigger than ever. Yet there are still problems that plague the community. Difficulty in reaching content and certain negative fandom interactions still abound, even with changes already accomplished. This can be off-putting for new fans. Even older fans tire of these issues and distance themselves from the community. That shouldn’t have to happen! Anime and manga are fun and everyone should have the chance to enjoy it. So what can we do to help support others in the community? Let’s break it down!

Trials and Translations

Despite improvements in the system’s efficiency, impatience is a killer in the anime community. While there are now anime that are released nearly concurrently in America and Japan, there are still plenty that have a significant time delay. Why? Translation. It’s necessary, but it can be a roadblock in maintaining series momentum. The wait for subtitled anime might not be terrible, but for fans of dubs? It can take months or years for anime to reach English speakers. The same goes for manga. Generally, manga won’t start translations until much further into the series’ run. If you’re too hyped to wait for these official translations, you can sometimes find fan translations. However, these can be unreliable, hard to read, and often don’t support the creators. It’s even worse when you hear about a show or manga you want to try, but it never receives an official translation.

A shelf of the manga section of a Barnes and Noble Bookstore.
Part of the manga section at a Barnes & Noble. | Image: Yelp

Manga availability is limited. This goes especially for when you try to buy physical copies of manga in bookstores. Frequently, bookstores will only carry big names, select volumes of certain series, or may not even carry manga. For people used to buying their books from a store, this can be discouraging. Also discouraging can be the price tag. One volume usually averages at about ten dollars in-store. With four full chapters, it’s cheaper than buying most American comics. Still, the price tag can be too much for some budgets. And long series can become major investments.

But There’s Hope!

Thankfully, anime has become easier to access than ever. We can thank the growth of the internet and streaming sites for that. Remember a time when the majority of subtitles were fan-made and every other streaming site would threaten your computer’s health? Now, those concerns have virtually disappeared. Plenty of streaming sites provide official ways to watch anime. These sites support the people who created the show. Plus, they feature official, company-driven subtitles, clearer pictures, and safe services. Many of them offer free accounts. Funimation even lets you stream without an account. At long last, I don’t have to close pop-up windows of age-inappropriate ads to watch an episode of SOUL EATER! Worst-case scenario, I might have to watch ad breaks. 

A photo of a manga section from a library.
A selection of manga from a library. | Image: Odyssey

For manga, the internet also has you covered. Many  publishing companies have websites showing release dates of their titles. Look up your favorite series and keep track of their release schedules so you’re not in the dark about new content. If your bookstore has a limited selection, check their website too! Many stores allow you to order books to their stores or directly to your house. As for reducing manga cost, the first step is to check your local library. Plenty of libraries have a surprising manga selections and also offer book orders. If your library can’t help, a lot of new manga have e-copies that you can buy online. Through websites like these, you can get a wide range of manga for the same price as, or less than, print.

Simple and Clean

In addition to the improved way you receive your anime, manga as a format is pretty simple. Though some might stress over changing their reading patterns and find the format daunting, it’s pretty easy to pick up. Many manga even have reading instructions written into the book, making the clearer than some Western comics.

An insert from a ONE PUNCH MAN book instructing people to read the right way.
Saitama teaches you how to read manga. | Image: Twitter

If you know American comics, you know series can change their writers, artists, and even timelines or dimensions. Figuring out which incarnation to start with can make it pretty hard to get into a new comic series. Usually, manga is much less intricate. The volumes are clearly and consistently numbered. For instance, you’ll never start INUYASHA and find that after a certain point, they went back to #1 again and started over. And in the event there are alternate timelines or generations in a series, they’re always labelled as such. You can just grab the first volume and go from there. Manga doesn’t have to be scary, in fact it’s relatively simple to pick up. Regrettably, there are other issues.

Alienation in Anime

In the same way that practical problems make anime a little harder to reach, social and emotional problems can tax the community. Plenty of anime fans have experienced different forms of derision from outside the community. Teachers tell young artists that anime isn’t real art. Peers mock others for their interest in manga. Anime fans themselves might make fun of anime, but harsh words from those outside the fandom take on a whole different meaning.

A screenshot of a fake computer screen in AKIBA'S TRIP.
A shot from AKIBA’S TRIP, which includes a gatekeeping antagonist. | Image: Crunchyroll

On the other hand, criticism from anime fans can be harsh too. The problem comes more when they criticize other fans rather than the media itself. For example, some create arbitrary rules for what constitutes “real fans.” Think about statements like, “You’re not a real anime fan if you haven’t seen NARUTO; it’s a classic!” This creates unnecessary pressure on people to partake in certain series. It doesn’t account for the fact that all people have different tastes in genre. Not to mention that many of the “classic” series, like NARUTO or DRAGON BALL, are pretty long. Not everyone can commit to a series that long; they often worry that it’s too late to catch up with so much content. Yet others still shame them for not having seen it.

A Rewarding Community

A 2016 poster for the Tacoma Library Anime Club.
A poster for the Tacoma Library Anime Club. | Image: Tacoma Public Library

But here’s the thing about anime: we love it. So many people only ever engage in media from their own countries. They might not even know how much they’re missing. We’re lucky to have the chance to explore through anime. The satisfaction of getting to watch or read a great series far outweighs the process it takes to get it, or the criticism we get for it. You can find fantastic storytelling, art, and concepts in anime by accessing an entirely new media format. No matter what you’re interested in, there is something out there for you.

Just as other media forms can offer people escapes, anime and its various communities can be second homes for fans. Therefore, we should take steps to make our communities better places. Managing who you interact with is an easy way to start. It’s easiest to meet other fans online, but if you can find people in real life, go for it! Having in-person conversations with other fans can remind you that real people out there also love what you love. Conversations at conventions are the best because everyone is so happy to be around people who share their passions. When online, don’t be afraid to block incompatible people. Especially when it comes to fan communities, you have the power to decide who you want to engage with. If someone makes you uncomfortable, ditch them! You don’t have to prove yourself to be a fan, just enjoy what you enjoy.

Building A Better Fandom

A photo of the convention hall from Anime NYC 2017.
The floor from AnimeNYC 2017. | Image: Yatta-Tachi

Ultimately, access to anime has greatly improved over the years. With more people having the chance to experience it, it’s our job as existing fans to make the community a welcoming place. It’s more fun for everyone involved that way.

To ensure that anime continues to grow more accessible to the public, you can make your voice heard. Let creators know what you want (politely)! They know there’s a market for anime and they want to give you what you want, even if it’s just so they can take your money. When you tell companies, “I would like a sub/dub of this series,” they’ll eventually take the hint. There are the customer contact pages for a reason. Seven Seas Entertainment, Yen Press, Funimation, and Crunchyroll are just a few you can use, but there are plenty of others. Think of it like contacting your senator; change your world by getting involved.

Second, be a cool person to talk to. Don’t belittle other people’s choices in anime and definitely don’t gatekeep who can be a “real fan.” Even people whose first taste of anime is DRAGON BALL SUPER: BROLY are still valid if they enjoyed themselves. Together, we can build a better community.

Featured Image courtesy of WikiHow.

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